Lost in the publicity about the exponential rise in accidental drug overdose deaths are the faces and broken hearts of the many hundreds of thousands of family members and friends of loved ones left behind -- families devastated by the loss of a loved one in this most tragic and stigmatizing way.
My husband's and my only child, Jeff, died in the summer of 2008 of an accidental overdose. He struggled with substance use disorder for over a decade with periods of remission and relapse. As a family we did everything we could to help him and were by his side. He was 27 years old.
The arc of our family's story has been profoundly shaped by our decision to channel our energy in a positive way in order to help with our own healing, and to ensure that Jeff's death was not in vain and to help other families.
We work for change in public health policies to prevent this from happening to others. In 2010 we formed a nonprofit organization, Broken No More, to attempt to make a difference in the direction our country is going regarding substance use. Our mission is to advocate for drug policy reform, reality-based drug education, and more accessible and effective treatment for substance use disorder.
What distinguishes Broken No More from other parent support organizations is that we offer desperately needed stigma-free bereavement support through GRASP: Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing. GRASP now has more than 50 face-to-face peer-led support groups across the nation and a closed online support group on Facebook with members from the United States, Bermuda, Australia, Canada and the UK.
Our communities provide a safe place for people to share their feelings, where there is no judgment or stigma, just understanding and support. Many parents and others feel the need to become involved in this movement of advocacy and change and Broken No More is there to support them.
In the past four years, as overdose deaths skyrocketed, Broken No More has contributed to the shift in the national conversation about public health responses to overdose prevention. Broken No More has also trained GRASP members who testified and/or were actively involved in media campaigns resulting in the passage of 911 Good Samaritan Laws and/or naloxone access legislation in almost a dozen states so far, with many of our members currently working on this in other states.
Every two years we offer people in this previously faceless community of friends and families a one-of-a-kind opportunity to come together for a weekend of healing and connection.
Broken No More, in partnership with the Drug Policy Alliance www.drugpolicy.org, will be convening our 2nd biannual GRASP Conference and Retreat in Tampa, Florida September 11-14th, 2014
We are bringing together those who have lost a loved one to overdose or substance use with experts in grief recovery, overdose prevention, harm reduction, advocacy, and reality-based education for our kids.
If you have suffered this loss and would like to learn more about healing and drug policy reform, you are invited to join us. You can find more information about our conference athttp://grasphelp.org/2014-retreat/.
Denise Cullen and her husband Gary are founders of Broken No More, an advocacy organization working to change failed drug policies. They live in Southern California.